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The Greening of the San Joaquin Valley

California's heartland looks to new industries to diversify economy

The San Joaquin Valley is facing hard times.

A new economic report by the University of the Pacific found that the ongoing drought caused 6,000 fewer agricultural jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, representing $170 million in employee compensation. But that number was far overshadowed by the housing downturn, which caused 47,000 lost construction and real-estate-related jobs, or $1.8 billion in employee compensation.

Seeking a solution, the tiny town of Mendota on the west side of the valley recently discovered an alternative to dependence on construction and agriculture. The light at the end of the tunnel may be their most abundant resource: sunlight.

This week, Cleantech America broke ground on a 5-megawatt solar energy project in Mendota. Thin solar panels will cover 40 acres and could power 2,500 to 4,000 families by the end of the year. The energy will be purchased by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

City Council Member Joseph Riofrio told the Fresno Bee, "This is huge for this small, dusty farm town. This is going to change our identity from agriculture to a producer of clean energy."

While green energy may not solve all Mendota's problems, diversifying the local economy is a first step in the right direction and a model for other sun-drenched Central Valley towns.


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